Under the Redline: Inquest


An inquest shall be held to investigate the causes and circumstances of any death involving a member of the law enforcement agency of the county in the performance of the member’s duties.  (Ord. 18316 § 1 (part), 2016).

King County Charter, Section 895




The history of the King County Inquest process into law enforcement involved deaths within the County, begins in the late 1960s before such a process existed, and

Freeholders election/ King County archives

when County government looked and functioned like nothing we are used to today.


Before there was a King County Council, or a King County Executive Office, there was the King County Commission, made up of just three people.

In the 1960’s, King County experienced a series of scandals. In response, the League of Women Voters and the Municipal League conducted a review the of County government.


Research, facts, anecdotes, and talking points at the ready, The League of Women Voters and the Municipal League went to the three County Commissioners with a bold request. The election of a group of citizens known as Freeholders; individuals who own property and have lived in the county for a number of years, or generations- to draft a charter for the County, which would eventually be placed on the ballot.

The Commissioners were less than receptive, given such changes would ultimately put an end to their role and control over county matters.


The Municipal League wasn’t deterred. The battle to change the function, power structure and accountability of King County government, was on.


 In response to the inaction of the Commissioners, the League relied on a provision in the Washington State Constitution. They put together a committee with the purpose of reorganizing County government, and in the process built a broad coalition eager to see change. They gathered the required number of signatures of the voters in the County on a petition placing the initiative to elect Freeholders on the ballot.

So then, commenced a short lived effort by the Commissioners to throw out the signatures and keep the initiative off the ballot. But stained in scandal, the strength


Letter to public from Freeholders

of the movement to create a charter grew much faster than the Commissioners were able to restore confidence in their leadership, and the county government.

The Commissioners may not have wanted the initiative on the ballot, but they knew they couldn’t keep it off the ballot, either.  In 1967 it was put to the voters to decide the fate of King County government.


By the summer of 1968, less than a year later, the Board of King County Freeholders, made up of 15 elected people, publicized a working draft of the proposed home rule charter for King County, seeking input and ideas from the public and announcing public hearings.


Eventually a charter was adopted, and King County government was drastically reorganized.

The creation of the County charter included a review and amendment process, requiring at least every ten years, a committee would review the charter andproposing changes.

Former King County Executive John Spellman


In 1969 King County had its first County Executive, and its first County Council. No sooner were they sworn into office, when the first official review committee was formed.

In 1970, King County Executive John Spellman with input from the County Council, appointed a charter review committee made up of 13 people.

A year later in 1971 the review committee issued its final report and recommended amendments to the charter, including, the creation of an inquest process.

In 1971, Mandatory Inquests, Section 895 of the King County charter was born.


Coming soon to Under the Redline: Inquest





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